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Council spied' on residents 150 times

PUBLISHED: 13:30 27 May 2010 | UPDATED: 10:33 12 August 2010

CIVIL liberties campaigners have accused a council of an intrusive abuse of power after a study shows that it has spied on its residents on 150 occasions in the last two years. Bromley council was ranked sixth in the country in a table of all local

CIVIL liberties campaigners have accused a council of an 'intrusive abuse of power' after a study shows that it has 'spied' on its residents on 150 occasions in the last two years.

Bromley council was ranked sixth in the country in a table of all local authorities which have carried out surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) on one occasion even putting hidden cameras outside a charity shop to catch 'fly-tippers' who were leaving donations outside.

The figures, which were published last Sunday, emerged following a request by campaigner group Big Brother Watch (BBW), which contacted every council in the country asking how many times they used RIPA to secretly collect information on suspected offenders.

Alex Deane, director of BBW, said: "The council in Bromley is amongst the worst snoopers in the whole country. To spy on people leaving donations for a charity shop as if they're committing a crime is the most absurd example of intrusive abuse of power by councils our research showed anywhere in Britain.

"If something's serious enough to merit covert surveillance, then it shouldn't be with councils, it should be with the police - and the way Bromley council abused these powers is the best demonstration of that."

The council has used covert surveillance, usually through the use of hidden CCTV cameras, to catch rogue traders on people's doorsteps, to monitor anti-social behaviour, to catch people dumping rubbish and to ensnare traders who sell booze, knives and cigarettes to underage children.

While they couldn't give exact figures of how many of such surveillance cases led to a prosecution, the council estimated that around 20 per cent led to a successful conviction.

Clive Davison, one of a few senior Bromley council officers who have the power to authorize the controversial RIPA surveillance, justified his powers, saying that it was only used if really necessary.

He said: "These powers are only used as a last resort, if we have no other way of gathering evidence.

"In Bromley we have a large elderly population, and with that a lot of rogue traders who try to take them to the cleaners for shoddy work. Often using RIPAs is the only way to catch these people."

Nicholas Bennett, councillor for West Wickham and a magistrate, is in line with the new government in wanting to see the power to decide on such investigations to lie with the judiciary.

He said: "This legislation was brought in to deal with anti-terrorism cases. I think that the power to judge these cases should be given to somebody who is accountable, if not a magistrate then an elected member of the council.

"Magistrates are trained to make such judgments and to ensure that in each case the response is a justified one.

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